Learning to Write
How did you learn to write? Did you major in journalism or creative writing in college? Take some correspondence classes?
When people ask me how I learned, I tend to mumble, because the truth is I don’t honestly know. I’ve always written. The first creative writing effort I remember involved a melody attached to a Robert Frost poem. Sixth grade, Dorothy Younghouse, Edgemont Elementary, East St. Louis, Illinois. In high school, I was forced to read a research paper aloud to my English class, because my teacher thought it was good. I was mortified. The athlete I had a crush on was NEVER going to “like” me if I was brainy. Sigh.
But wait. Maybe I do know the answer to the question “how did you learn to write”? I learned to write by writing (and by having the equivalent of a Marine drill sergeant for a high school English teacher. Thank you, Dorothy McMullen, Belleville Township High School West, for putting an “F” on that paper because of that run-on sentence).
Author David McCullough says that the arts are unique, because you can only learn them by doing. Musicians learn by making music. Artists learn by painting. Writers learn by writing.
Author Stephen King adds another component. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
Improving on What You Know
Because I’m mostly self-taught when it comes to fiction writing, I tend to be insecure. And I want to get better. Always. Since attending conferences has never been a realistic possibility for me, I’m largely back to being self-taught when it comes to improving. There are many great tools available for writers like me. I once posed a question to a group of multi-published writing friends: “If you could only recommend ONE book on craft, what would it be?” These are the “top ten” books that were mentioned (in no particular order):
Story by Robert McKee
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Moral Premise by Dr. Stanley Williams
Fiction Writing Demystified by Tom Sawyer
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
Characters Make Your Story by Maren Elwood
Fiction is Folks by Robert Peck
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
How to Write Best-Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz
HOWEVER … we all know that mastering the master books on the craft of writing still doesn’t guarantee a traditional publishing contract. What then?
NO is Not a Four-letter Word
To be honest, I was amazed when someone actually wanted to publish my first pioneer story, (that ended up being my first novel, Walks the Fire). If you are struggling to make your dream of being published come true … don’t let that discourage you. Please. God has promised to complete the work that He is doing in each one of us, but every journey is unique. That’s not a cliché. It’s the truth. What God was really doing when He said “yes” to me back in 1994 was making a way for me to provide for my four children, because my husband was going to die of cancer. It seems to me that often, what God is really doing doesn’t have a lot to do with what I can see with my human eyes.
Since getting that “yes” in 1994, I’ve heard “no” a lot, too. No from publishers. No from editors. No from agents. No from marketing teams. No from cover designed. No (at the last minute) to a movie version of A Garden in Paris. No to story ideas and book proposals and marketing ideas and … well. You get the idea. And every time, I have to remind myself that all of it belongs beneath the banner of God’s promise to accomplish His purpose for me. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” But it’s still difficult to accept “no” as His will for me. It’s a lot more fun when He orchestrates a “yes.”
The most encouraging thing I know to tell any writer is this: If God has called you to write, you will be successful as long as you follow His leading, whether that results in a publishing contract or not. I often remind myself that success in light of eternity has nothing to do with books sold. Success in light of eternity means obedience to the Audience of One. In a hundred million years it will not matter if I was published, if my name appeared on any best seller lists, if I received any writing awards. In a hundred million years, what will matter is my obedience to my Lord. If He says “well done,” then whatever happened here below was good, and I achieved success in the truest sense of that word.
2013 brings us all one year closer to eternity … may we live it well!
On the journey ….
Stephanie Grace Whitson
Join three of today’s bestselling inspirational fiction authors in a collection of Christmas stories from Victorian-era America that are full of second-chance romances. Jilted by her fiancé, Karla packs away her wedding quilts and her plans for marriage. Widow Jane travels to marry a prosperous man she barely knows in order to give her daughter a better life—then is stranded in a winter storm. Ada, a wealthy ingénue, inadvertently causes grave injury to a poor man she once considered quite a catch. Each must search her heart, change her plans. . .and patch together a tender, unexpected life filled with love.
Juliana Sutton’s life looks perfect—from the outside. Until her husband’s untimely death reveals a devastating truth. . . . Cass Gregory is carrying his own dark secrets and feels unworthy to offer comfort to a woman of Juliana’s standing. When circumstances force them together, both Juliana and Cass are wounded and afraid to trust. Will the shadow of her dead husband’s name stand between Juliana and Cass, or will Juliana choose a love she never thought possible?